Outside of Boise City Hall on Saturday morning, the smoke was lifting, the temperature had dropped, the Capital City Public Market hummed, and the Boise River Greenbelt was alive with bicycles and pedestrians.
Inside was another scene entirely. Sixty-five or so passionate Boiseans gathered to help advise the city on the thorniest issue facing it: growth. In particular, housing.
Any natural light? No. Coffee and muffins? Yep. Strong opinions? Absolutely.
It was the kickoff of Round Two in the city’s ongoing workshops on growth. Round One, finalized in June, rooted out what participants viewed as Boise’s most pressing issues: housing affordability, transportation, cultural and environmental preservation, governance.
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This time around, those drawn to the community conversation were given three housing scenarios and asked to hash out how each of them might — or might not — work in fast-growing Boise.
As moderator Jen Schneider pointed out, “The scenarios have to do with hypothetical housing development proposals. ... Some of them will sound familiar to you. But they’re not actually based on real cases.”
Schneider is a professor in the Boise State University School of Public Service. She has run the city’s growth discussions for the past several months. And she made an effort Saturday to answer a question she said the city has heard “a lot” during the process: “What happens after this?”
“I think there’s a fear that these meetings aren’t going to lead to anything practical,” she told the crowd. “But I can tell you there will be another report to come out of these two meetings. There’s this one, and there’s one Tuesday [6-8 p.m. at Timberline High School].
“That report will be shared with all of you,” Schneider promised, “and it will also be used by the mayor and the City Council to inform future decisions and to guide land-use policy.”
Scenario No. 1 was a 100-unit apartment complex proposed within a five-minute drive of Downtown in a neighborhood of mostly single-family homes and crowded schools. Sixty percent of the units would rent at market rate.
Scenario No. 2 was a complex of 60 single-family houses and 40 townhouses planned for a semi-suburban, semi-rural neighborhood dotted with horse pasture and farmland. (Think a smaller version of the “Prominence” subdivision proposed off of Hill Road Parkway in Northwest Boise.)
And Scenario No. 3 was 100 pricey single-family homes in open space historically used for farming. The detached houses would top out at 4,000 square feet and $700,000 each.
Schneider asked what tradeoffs would be necessary to build the 1,000 units of housing Boise needs each year for the next 20 years. Just one man defended each scenario. He said opposition to growth is a hurdle to a livable city and tramples property rights.
“You constantly shoot yourself in the foot by not allowing some of these things and infill projects to occur to fill this need,” said Dave Ferguson, who lives in the North End. “They’re going to move here whether we like it or not.”
“Density is great when it’s organized well,” he said. “I think that’s hard to do. ... We don’t see that everywhere. We don’t see it in my neighborhood.”
But it was a woman who identified herself only as Lisa who tapped into one of Boiseans’ greatest frustrations. The median income for a single person in Boise is around $50,000, according to the city, and that person can afford a maximum rent of $1,231.
But rising rents and home prices in Boise have left the large number of people who don’t make that much money feeling lost.
“I’m a single mom,” she said. “Are you kidding me? Fifty-thousand dollars is beyond my ability to earn money. ... If affordability of housing was one of the No. 1 concerns for Boise, that’s still not being presented here.”